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ParkSide gets cineplex at last

After a five-year wait, the project that once promised 24, then 20 and finally 16 screens opens its doors this week.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2001

PINELLAS PARK -- For several weeks, turquoise neon lights have glowed through the trees along 70th Avenue N, beckoning nighttime passers-by. But the lights were just a tease to a long-touted coming attraction.

Come 1 p.m. Friday, the 16-screen cineplex at ParkSide mall will be here, signifying a new era for a mall once thought to be doomed. Theater doors open at 12:30 p.m.

The first week will be a kind of soft opening with previously screened films playing for $1 apiece through April 4. The movies are Apollo 13, Meet the Parents, Snow Day, Rugrats in Paris, Titanic, Men in Black, Chicken Run, Road to El Dorado, Charlie's Angels, Space Cowboys and The Perfect Storm.

The theaters then will close April 5 for a grand opening, VIPs only, including Mayor Thomas D. McGroarty of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Daytona Beach Mayor Baron Asher. They're invited because R/C Theatres Management Corp., the multiplex's owner, are opening cineplexes soon in their cities. The mayors will exchange keys to their cities with Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler.

The cineplex will reopen April 6 with first-run films at the regular admission prices of $5 before 6 p.m. and $7 at night. The April 6 listings have not been released, but the cineplex will open at 1 p.m. daily.

The promise of a theater complex at the mall at 7200 U.S. 19 N is at least five years old. In the duration, progress has been slow and at times confusing, with the number of screens changing from 24 to 20 to 16.

Moviegoers can look forward to stadium seating, the second such cineplex in south Pinellas County along with BayWalk. Two theaters have a special sound system to carry such films as Gladiator and The Perfect Storm, said Susan Robertson, mall spokeswoman.

Each theater is different, Robertson said, with the smallest seating 141 people and the largest 505. Total overall seating is 3,227.

In addition to the traditional concession stand with popcorn, candy and soda, moviegoers will have a cafe-style area with tables and chairs to sit, talk and eat.

Robertson said there are several rooms that can be rented for private parties. Each room has private balcony access within individual theaters so groups can watch a movie from a protected area.

The complex's game room and concession stand are in front of the ticket booth. Users will have access to 35 games and food and drinks without going to a movie or buying a ticket.

"I think we'll see a tremendous amount of people being brought in here," Pinellas Park City Council member Ed Taylor said. "If traffic is what saves a mall, I think they will have a winner there."

In 1996, Pinellas Square Mall, as it was called, was a loser. A three-year exodus stripped the mall of half of its retailers. The taxable value of the property dropped by 20 percent in that time, costing Pinellas Park about $50,000 in revenue.

DeBartolo Realty Corp., which owned the mall, gave it back to John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., which held a $13-million note on the property that was due in August 1996.

The insurance giant hired Divaris Real Estate LLC of Virginia Beach, Va., to resurrect the mall.

Divaris conceived a family-oriented town center, bringing in tenants such as Time Warner, so people could shop as well as pay bills. They opened an ice skating rink, still the only one in south Pinellas. And they renovated the mall, brightening and modernizing the decor. Then they changed the name to ParkSide.

As the wait for the new theaters dragged on, the business atmosphere around the mall changed for the better.

Home Depot moved in next door.

The three-screen theater immediately south of the mall on 70th Avenue closed.

Wal-Mart decided to build its supercenter, the first in south Pinellas, just down the street at 7901 U.S. 19 N -- on the site of the 12-screen Movies at Pinellas Park.

All of which means that since July 2000, Pinellas Park residents have been without a movie theater. With that changing, it's unclear how the ParkSide movies will affect BayWalk, Crossroads and Tyrone in St. Petersburg.

"We don't know for sure yet," said Rick King, spokesman for AMC Entertainment, which owns the Crossroads and Tyrone movies. But the pattern, he said, is that traditional theaters do suffer some decline when a state-of-the-art facility opens nearby.

Still, King said, AMC has no plans to revamp or close either Crossroads or Tyrone.

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